Isotopic biographies reveal horse rearing and trading networks in medieval London

Alexander J. E. Pryor (Lead Author), Carly Ameen, Robert Liddiard, Gary Baker, Katherine Kanne, J. Andy Milton, Christopher D. Standish, Bastian Hambach, Ludovic Orlando, Lorelei Chauvey, Stephanie Schiavinato, Laure Calviere-Tonasso, Gaetan Tressières, Stefanie Wagner, John Southon, Beth Shapiro, Alan Pipe, Oliver H. Creighton, Alan K. Outram

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This paper reports a high-resolution isotopic study of medieval horse mobility, revealing their origins and in-life mobility both regionally and internationally. The animals were found in an unusual horse cemetery site found within the City of Westminster, London, England. Enamel strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope analysis of 15 individuals provides information about likely place of birth, diet, and mobility during the first approximately 5 years of life. Results show that at least seven horses originated outside of Britain in relatively cold climates, potentially in Scandinavia or the Western Alps. Ancient DNA sexing data indicate no consistent sex-specific mobility patterning, although three of the five females came from exceptionally highly radiogenic regions. Another female with low mobility is suggested to be a sedentary broodmare. Our results provide direct and unprecedented evidence for a variety of horse movement and trading practices in the Middle Ages and highlight the importance of international trade in securing high-quality horses for medieval London elites.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereadj5782
JournalScience Advances
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2024

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